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Monday, December 18, 2017

Her father's daughter: An inspiring story from INA Ezhimala

After the Passing out Parade, father and daughter together.

By Cmde Srikant Kesnur

A few days ago, the Indian Naval Academy at Ezhimala, in southern India, celebrated one more course passing out parade with the usual pomp, precision and show. There were several stirring stories as young boys and girls, officer cadets, were commissioned as officers and began their naval journey. 
Amidst those stirring stories was a heart-warming tale of a family, and for the purpose of this piece, a father and daughter. It is not an extraordinary tale, not a trailblazing or news-making one, yet it is, to use that phrase again, heart-warming and life-affirming. 
The father first. Master Chief Petty Officer First Class (MCPO 1) Umesh Chandra Dhaundiyal is the senior most Sailor in my unit and the in-charge of maintenance, administration and host of other matters.
He has risen to this position by the dint of his hard work, perseverance and dedicated service of more than 30 years in the Navy, mostly at sea. In fact, the last ship he served on as the Master Chief Boatswains Mate (MCBM) - the key sailor of the ship - bagged the most spirited ship trophy, a tribute to him, as much to his Captain. In my unit of very few sailors, he slogs with the josh and enthusiasm of a newcomer while using all the wisdom of his years. In short, a gem of a person and a professional. 
The Dhaundiyals are like any conventional middle-class Indian family. Thrifty, resourceful, hardworking, a tad conservative and traditional. They believe in making the best of their surroundings. It is perhaps because of the father's background. Growing up in a small village in Pauri Garhwal, 120 km from Dehra Dun, he lost both his parents while in high school and came up the hard way. It is quite likely that the mother grew up similarly. Thus, honest middle-class values and virtues became their leitmotif. 
The selfie together after the POP.
The daughter now. Kamini Dhaundiyal did her schooling at Navy Children Schools in Mumbai & Vizag. A topper in school she bagged trophies for "Best Girl" and overall excellence in her matriculation. She graduated in electrical & electronic engineering with 94% marks from GITAM University, Visakhapatnam in 2016. She landed a job in campus selection for the prestigious IT major Accenture, where she worked for 7 months. 
However, not quite enthused with her corporate career and motivated by a strong urge to join the Navy, she took the plunge and appeared for the first ever Services Selection Board (SSB) conducted for women entry to INA and was among the 5 out of 167 selected. She was selected for Naval Armament cadre. She was in a dilemma; she preferred logistics to handling ordnance.
About a month later, she appeared for her second SSB at a different centre and was selected again. This speaks volumes about her confidence because most would be happy to clear the selection once. She did it at two different centres. As her father says matter-of-factly "she worked very hard at her job while also preparing for SSB". At the Naval Academy, she was awarded the prize for best performance in seamanship and she stood third overall in order of academics merit. From all accounts, she is a good sportsperson too. 
Posing in front of the Mess, a day before the POP.
The story goes a little further. His son Abhishek Dhaundiyal, younger to Kamini, too has joined Naval Academy in Jan 17 training to become an Executive officer. He also studied in NCS Vizag. He also excelled in academics as well as in sports. He also was awarded the same Trophy for best academics overall in 2014. He is very good in football and table tennis, where he represented NCS Vizag in south zone state level junior table tennis championship. He too went through two SSBs, one for NDA and other for Naval Academy and having cleared both, opted for the latter. He will be commissioned as an officer three years down the line. 
So in short, when the Dhaundiyals landed in the Naval Academy a fortnight ago, they were a family in which the father had reached the highest sailors’ rank and the daughter was being commissioned as an officer in the navy and the son awaiting his turn in the line three years hence. I am sure Master Sahab (as we refer to our Senior sailors) would have been a very proud man when his daughter pipped her stripes and entered the rarefied world of Navy officers. 
For me, this little story offers several fascinating nuggets. This is not one of a kind, but it is uncommon. For one, it is a story of aspiration and ambition. It is also about realising it in the best possible way, which is through hard work, grit, determination, and perseverance - qualities that we see often in our sailors. But it is also much more than that. 
It is about social mobility in a time of social transition and how navy enables that access. It is about the success of Navy schools which in a span of just about two decades are amongst the best you can get. And these schools are the handiwork, almost entirely, of the naval community. It is about the Mothers who are often not given due credit, including here. The mothers/wives in the navy have an onerous 'unpaid' task. They look after home and hearth with men away sailing or on duty more than half the time. Mostly from the hinterland, many of our sailors' wives begin life in a big city having to adjust and adapt at several levels. They do so magnificently. As mothers, they are often silent but always solid, stoic, supportive of their husbands' and (later) children’s' career endeavours. It is not the perfect world that the libertarians may want, but it is of slow and steady progress to modernity and cosmopolitanism. 
Siblings in Service.
It is about daughters expressing themselves. And fathers, overcoming entrenched patriarchies of tradition, encouraging them to do so. It is about chipping away at the glass ceilings; it is about creative disruption in small doses in the country's social fabric, a vindication of the beti padhao campaign. And it is indeed about the fine naval ecosystem that makes this generational transformation possible. As Master Sahab says gratefully "My wife and I are very happy that we can be in touch with the Navy long after my retirement". 
But, above all, this is a story of a father and a daughter. Do see this accompanying photo. It conveys so much emotion. Happiness, pride, resolve, expectation, excitement. From now on when Master Chief Dhaundiyal salutes his daughter Sub Lieutenant Kamini it will be with heart-swelling pride. And when she returns his salute, it will be with the same pride and gratitude. On the eve of the Navy Day and in a week when we honour our Armed Forces veterans, the Dhaundiyal duo are the perfect poster people of a nation and navy that tells several good stories. May we have more like them.

(The author -- Cmde Srikant Kesnur – is a serving Indian Navy officer with more than 31 years experience in operations, leadership, diplomacy, training and administration. He has commanded two front line warships and been in other important assignments. He has many academic accomplishments and has been the lead writer and Chief Editor of eight books for the Indian Navy. He has also written numerous other articles for professional journals and periodicals.

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